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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 07 Jan 2008


Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Health Speech, nuclear power, energy prices and misc.

Morning press briefing from 7 January 2008

Health Speech

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by saying a few words on the Prime Minister's health speech. In addition to the information given out that morning on screening, there were two further aspects of the speech that he would draw people's attention to.

The first of these was further action being taken to overcome failure in the NHS and driving up performance, as part of the ongoing reform agenda. During 2008, Alan Johnson would be bringing new proposals for dealing with failure in the NHS.

As people knew, the Government was already legislating in the current Health and Social Care Bill, to give new powers to the Care Quality Commission, to impose fines and close down wards in the case of poor performance. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health wanted to go further, for example making it easier for strategic health authorities to remove the boards of failing hospitals and replacing the management, to give greater freedoms to foundation trusts to take over the management of underperforming hospitals and to give new powers to primary care trusts to take action against underperforming or failing primary care services, including GP services.

The second aspect was taking forward some of the themes from this morning, for instance how the Government would be taking forward what's known as the "active patient agenda." This meant giving people more choice and more support over how they themselves can help manage their long-term conditions. Technology had made this increasingly possible and to take a very simple example at one end of the spectrum, in some parts of the country, asthma sufferers got text messages to tell them when pollen levels were high, which has had a big impact on asthma attacks.

At the other end of the spectrum, people with quite complex heart conditions were having technology placed in their homes to help monitor their conditions and that is then monitored by clinicians in hospitals, who can then intervene if something looks awry.

The Government would be bringing forward a patients prospectus during the course of this year that would set out how the Government would extend to the 15 million patients with a chronic or long-term condition, access to a choice of active patient or care-at-home options, which is clinically appropriate to them.

Asked whether the specific measures mentioned in the speech would only apply to England rather than Britain, the PMS replied that health was a devolved matter, so these measures related to England.

Nuclear Power

Asked about the energy announcements on Thursday, the PMS said that it would include the decision of whether or not to go ahead with the next generation of nuclear power stations. Asked what else would be included, the PMS said that it would probably be best to wait for the announcement.

Asked if it would come in the form of a statement and would Cabinet be discussing the issue tomorrow, the PMS replied that that was his anticipation. Put that this would be the decision to go ahead with nuclear power, the PMS replied that a consultation had been undertaken; that consultation had now concluded and the Government would need to make a decision in the light of that consultation.

Asked to comment on the Guardian article claiming that the tax-payer may have to foot the bill for decommissioning power stations, the PMS said that we had always been clear on nuclear power, that if the Government did decide that new nuclear power should be an option, then owners and operators of the new nuclear power stations would have to set aside funds to cover the full costs of decommissioning.

The Government had always been clear that the full share of costs of long-term management and disposal of waste should fall on the operators. As a general principle, of course there were costs associated with decommissioning nuclear waste and clearly, it was right that those costs were borne by the operators and that had always been the Government's position.

Put that one of the problems of nuclear power was the fact that companies could not see any medium-term return on investment, the PMS replied that these were commercial decisions that would have to be taken by commercial operators. At the moment, we were still in the realms of the hypothetical, because the Government had not yet made any announcement in relation to nuclear power.

Asked specifically about the word "share" in relation to the cost of decommissioning, the PMS said for detailed questions such as this, it would be best to speak to the department and wait for the announcement on Thursday. Asked if a full share meant the full costs, the PMS again asked people to check with the department. The full share was what the Government was saying in relation to the long-term management and disposal of waste, and the full cost was what the Government was saying in relation to decommissioning.

Asked what the Prime Minister's view was on the Scottish Government's decision to go against any new nuclear power stations, the PMS said that the Prime Minister's general view was that we do have to take some difficult decisions about the future energy security of our country.

Energy Prices

Asked if the Prime Minister shared the Chancellor's concerns about energy prices, the PMS said that the Government's view in general was that we do have a competitive market for energy prices in this country and that price changes were commercial decisions. However, Minister's were concerned, the Prime Minister as well as the Chancellor, about the effects of price rises and the effect they could have on businesses and vulnerable customers in particular. In the Chancellor's role as guardian of macro-economic stability, it was only right that he should seek an assessment from OFGEM of recent developments.

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy with how the energy market was functioning, the PMS said that these were matters for the regulator.

Misc

Asked when people could expect the public pay review settlement, the PMS said that he was not in a position at the moment to make any announcement on that. However the Prime Minister made his views on the matter very clear yesterday.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any message to give the new England manager, who starts his job today, the PMS replied that he had nothing particular to say on it, but he would check with the Prime Minister and get back to people this afternoon.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would be supporting England or Scotland when they play each other in the Rugby Six Nations, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had always said when he'd been asked this question in the past, that if England played Scotland, he would support Scotland.

ENDS

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